Thursday, June 12, 2014


June 9, 2014

Common Patio Area
I had registered with a school called Spanish Dale! before I got to Granada.  When I signed up, I asked them to arrange for me to stay with a family.  I had done this a few times before in Mexico and Italy and always found it to be both cheaper and more comfortable than staying in a hotel or apartment.  Depending on the family, it sometimes offered me the chance to practice my language skills.  The house where I stayed in Granada was quite large.  It had two beautifully landscaped patios.  On the street side of the house, there were a garage and a couple of rooms used by the family.  Then came a large patio with a wall on the left side and shady arcades on the other three sides.  A large fountain dominated the patio.  The arcades served as the living room.  They were furnished with several groupings of chairs.  The walls were hung with numerous pictures of buildings in Granada painted by Fatima's father.  There were also many elegant chests and tables of dark tropical hard woods, covered with a collection of knickknacks that made the place feel like a cross between a museum and the home of a grandmother, which, of course, it was.  The owner’s name was Fatima and she spent her days surrounded by her daughters, granddaughter and great grandchildren.

My Room in Granada
On the far side of the patio was a dining room with a kitchen behind that.  To the right, opposite the kitchen and lining the second patio behind that, were at least four bedrooms.  As near as I could tell, three of them were rented to guests.  A couple of them were triples.  When full, there were seven of us staying there.  Unfortunately, this made it feel more like a bed and breakfast than a family home and the table conversation was mostly in English.  Bernarda, whom I took to be Fatima’s daughter, cooked three meals a day for us and the food was excellent, if a little heavy on the rice and beans.  Some other women cleaned, but I think they were hired help, since they only appeared in the morning and early afternoon.  Family members came and went.  It was tough to tell who actually lived there besides Fatima, Bernarda and Bernarda’s husband.  There was decent Wi-Fi in the front patio, but it only reached as far as my room towards the rear of the house when they remembered to turn on the repeater.

Hotel Housing Spanish Dale!
The school was housed in a large hotel near the center of town.  Like most Spanish schools in Central
America outside of Mexico, instruction was one on one.  Students and their teachers met in the rear passageways of the hotel.  It was quiet and shady back there.  There seemed to be two other students besides myself, both of whom were young women from England in their early twenties.  My teacher’s name was Arleen.  She was a woman in her late thirties.  She knew her grammar well and was a good teacher.  The first day, we spent a lot of time conversing so that she could evaluate my Spanish abilities and then we made a mad dash through the present and simple past tenses, making sure I had a handle on the irregular verbs.  As I suspected, I knew these pretty well and could complete exercises accurately, but often made errors when speaking without taking time to think.  It was good to have someone to point out these errors.

My "Classroom"
Nicaraguan Spanish differed slightly from Spanish in other parts of the world.  While the word for “car” in Spain and, at least formally, in Mexico is “coche,” in Nicaragua, “coche” denotes an actual carriage drawn by horses.  Carriages are not in common use in most countries, these days, but in Nicaragua they are.  Nicaraguans refer to “cars” as “carros” or “autos.”  Arleen completely failed to understand the phrase “darse cuenta,” which is quite common in Spanish literature and means to “become aware of.”  I had to give up on that one, relegating it to the category of strange things they say in Spain.  Reading a lot in Spanish has increased my vocabulary, but not always in a useful way.  Since Arleen had not had the opportunity to prepare any homework for me, I got off easy on my first day.  We worked from 8:00 to noon and then I went home for lunch.
The food at the house where I stayed was quite tasty, if not overly plentiful.  For breakfast, I had a banana and a bowl of fruit salad with a (somewhat stale) roll and coffee.  Lunch was a chicken leg in a spinach cream sauce with beans, rice, plantains and salad.  Dinner was a piece of sausage with more beans and rice, a piece of salty Nicaraguan cheese and half a piece of what looked like pita bread.  The guests ate in the formal dining room, at a table set with a tablecloth and place mats.  There was a small water dispenser in the center of the table.  After lunch, I sat in the living area and worked on my blog for a couple of hours.  I went back to the school at 3:00 to go on an outing to Las Isletas.
Las Isletas
Volcan Mombacho from Las Isletas
Leticia, the two English girls, and I took a cab to the lake shore where we met our boatman.  Granada is situated on the western shore of Lake Nicaragua, which is humongous and reaches nearly to the Caribbean.  The San Juan River, which links the lake to the Caribbean, is navigable and Granada was often sacked by pirates and mercenaries in its history, most recently during the civil war with the rival city of Leon in 1857.  Off the shore of Granada there is an archipelago of some 350 plus small islands known as Las Isletas.  These islands were formed when the Mombacha Volcano erupted, spewing volcanic rocks and ash into the lake.  Some of the larger ones were inhabited and wealthy Nicaraguan families had summer homes on private islands.  The prettiest of these belonged to the family who owned the Flor de Cana rum company.  It is said that they own a quarter of Nicaragua.  One island was populated by howler monkeys, who had learned that people in boats brought them bananas.  They came to the shore of the island to greet us.  One male with a docked tail was so successful at begging bananas that he had quite a paunch on him.   We saw a female named Lucy who was carrying a small baby.  The girls had fun feeding the monkeys while I took the opportunity to photograph them.  There were also purple herons and kingfishers in abundance, feeding on the sardines that leaped out of the water in flight from our passing boat.  Our tour took about an hour and a half and we returned to the school just before 5:00.
Lucy with Baby Hiding in Leaves

Luxury Home in Las Isletas

I took a short walk to Calle Calzada, the tourist street, to check out the action there.  It was pretty deserted, although I could see that it was lined with restaurants, bars, shops, and tour companies.  It was hot and I was thirsty, so I stopped for a quick (and thankfully ice cold) beer on the covered patio of one of the restaurants.  Then I walked back uptown to my house so as not to be late for dinner.  Dinner was served at 6:00 and, although I tried to read after dinner, the beer caught up with me and I just couldn’t stay awake.  I napped until 9:00, when I managed to get up to write for at least a couple of hours before returning to sleep.

June 10, 2014

Street View of My House in Granada
I spent the morning reviewing the finer points of when to use which past tense in Spanish.  I did pretty well with this, with the exception of certain idiomatic phrases that require specific tenses outside of all apparent logic.   Of course, there are many of those in Spanish.  My teacher had warned me that she would be giving me some translation exercises to do.  I had assumed that this would be my homework, but she made me do it on the fly.  I read out loud from a book in English, translating to Spanish as I went.  That actually went very well.  I was surprised.  I had much more practice in translating from Spanish to English.

Fortaleza La Polvora
I went home for lunch after class.  I don’t norm-ally eat grains, pota-toes or le-
Granada Street Scene
gumes.  My lunch consisted of a small piece of pork with rice, beans, potatoes and plantains.  No wonder I was hungry all the time.  All that starch was messing with my hormones.  It was a good thing I wasn’t staying longer, although the quality of the Spanish instruction was making me consider extending my stay.  After lunch, I went for a walk up to the Fortaleza La Polvora (literally dusty fort), a Spanish fort built in the 18th century to protect the city from the ravages of pirates sailing across the lake from the Caribbean.  There was a museum there, but it was closed.  I returned via a different street, passing a couple of interesting churches on my way to the grocery store.  Granada changes rapidly once you leave the tourist streets.  A little girl about 11 years old stopped me to warn me to put my camera away lest a thief on a bicycle grab it.  She then gave me a tale of woe about how her father had died and they had nothing to eat.  I didn’t know if she was telling the truth or not, but she was so sweet that I gave here all the coins in my purse, which elicited a huge smile and profusion of thanks.

I managed to reach the main shopping street (for locals, not tourists) without being robbed and headed off towards the supermarket.  My watch band had been on its last legs for some time, so I stopped at a stall operated by a little old man to see if he could provide me with a new one.  Having tried to buy a band for the watch before, I knew it was an odd size.  The only one he had was an ugly plastic one, but at less than $2, I figured it would keep me from losing my watch until I found a better one and making a sale made him happy.  The supermarket was hidden behind a big gate and I walked right past it the first time.  When the pavement started to give out, I figured I had gone too far and turned around.  I found it on the second pass.  The Pali chain of supermarkets in Nicaragua have all the charm of Costco with a selection little better than 7-11.  I managed to buy some snacks and something cold to drink, but couldn’t find any chocolate other than M&Ms, which I was thankfully able to resist.  I left via the back gate, which led into a quieter street and took that back to my neighborhood.  I spent the rest of the afternoon struggling with idiomatic phrases and the subtle changes in meaning when used with different tenses.  Mostly, I just managed to confuse myself.  I was glad when dinnertime came.  Dinner was a small fried pupusa-like thing and another egg-foo-yung sort of patty covered with spaghetti sauce, served with rice and beans.  Everything tasted good, even if we couldn’t identify what we were eating.

June 11, 2014

A group of high school girls from Wisconsin had arrived during the night and I met them at breakfast.  The two groups of girls were staying three to a room and it made for a very full house, as some of Fatima’s grandchildren were visiting also.  I felt like a grandmother, too, even though they were all nice girls.  I was starting to crave adult conversation, since I had hardly spoken with anyone my own age for more than two weeks.  I dropped my dirty clothes off at the laundry and then spent the morning reviewing the subjunctive tenses and translating an American history textbook into Spanish.  All of that went surprisingly well.  I must have absorbed more grammar than I realized over the years.  It was just the idiomatic phrases that continued to confound me.  Unfortunately, there was a big difference between being able to complete exercises or translate written material and being able to construct original sentences during a conversation.  I may have known the grammar, but wasn’t always able to access it on the fly.
The Front Patio

After class, I came home for lunch. I had a nice conversation, after lunch, with one of the male family members about my age.  He was tough to understand, but I gathered that he was from Jinotega, near where I had been in Matagalpa, and had spent his youth traveling through the mountains, selling goods to the people in remote communities.  He said that he did this alone from the age of 14, but that now it was very dangerous there as there were a lot of bandits.  He complained that young people today had no respect.  I hung around the house for a couple of hours and did my homework.  Then I took a short walk to the Convent of San Francisco, the oldest church in Granada, built in 1529.  On the way, I stopped into a travel agency and reserved a shuttle to take me to San Jorge on Friday, where I could get a ferry to the island of Ometepe.  While the shuttle was much more expensive than taking the bus, I could afford $15 to avoid having to drag my luggage to the bus terminal and then change buses in Rivas and get a cab to the ferry.  It was very warm, so I ducked into the Casa de Café for a coffee frappe and some air conditioned Wi-Fi.  I remained there, reviewing the use of object pronouns, until it was time to meet my classmates for a carriage tour of Granada.

Our Carriage
Old Hospital
                                                                                                                                      The two English girls, my teacher and I took a carriage tour at 5:00 when it had cooled down a bit.  I got a kick out of the cellular company advertisements painted on the horse drawn carriage.  Our driver was a very good guide.  He drove us all around Granada and told us the history of the important buildings in easily understood Spanish.  In city traffic, a horse and carriage can go as fast as a car.  He used hand signals when turning.  The tour was handy in that we were able to visit a couple of interesting locations where I would not have felt secure going on foot.  Granada gets sketchy quickly once you leave the main tourist arteries.  One of these locations was the old hospital.  It had only been abandoned for about 20 years, but looked haunted and creepy, especially on a cloudy late afternoon.  I also learned that a house around the corner from mine was the oldest house in Granada and had been occupied by William Walker, the American mercenary hired during the civil war between Leon and Granada who declared himself president of Nicaragua after killing the former president.  He was later ousted, but returned in 1857 to burn Granada to the ground.  The whole tour took about 45 minutes.

The woman at the laundry was told me my clothes would be ready at 5:30, but when I arrived at 5:45, she said it would be another 30 minutes.  I went home and ate a dinner of taquitos, rice, and beans and then returned to the laundry at 6:30.  My clothes still weren’t ready and, although they told me it would just be a few minutes I had to wait until after 7:00.  The laundry was in the lobby of a building that must have been some type of recreation center.  There was a dance class going on and I was surprised to see more boys than girls dancing.  I enjoyed listening to the music and watching them a bit.  There seemed to be a martial arts class going on upstairs and the kids were running down the stairs and then jumping back up, two or three steps at a time.  It reminded me of box jumping in CrossFit.  I felt like I should have joined them.  Eventually, my clothes were ready and I beat a quick retreat up the darkened street to my house.

June 12, 2014

I spent Thursday morning reviewing the conditional and subjunctive tenses and reading about the origin of the Spanish language.  A turtle ambled around the garden in the hotel and a hummingbird visited the hibiscus blossoms near where we were sitting.  Nicaraguan hummingbirds are drab brown creatures, nothing like the jewel green ones I am accustomed to seeing in California.  It was hot.  I went home for lunch and had all kinds of ambitions for the afternoon, but ended up taking a nap and staying in to work on my homework.  The coffee I had in the afternoon the day before had kept me up half the night, so I didn't want to perpetuate the problem by having another iced latte.  Granada lacked the numerous tiendas selling sodas, water and beer that I was accustomed to visit, so it was difficult to find a cold drink without going to a restaurant or bar.  It was good to take a break from drinking, but I was starting to crave a cold beer in the evening.  I hoped Ometepe would be more convenient.
Xalteva Park, the Site of the Original  Indigenous Village

Dinner was fried, smoked cheese with salsa over a bed of plantains and, of course, beans and rice.  While I was napping, someone painted the columns around the front patio.  I got the feeling that Fatima's hobby was decorating the house.  She was constantly altering something or changing a flower arrangement.  She must have inherited some of her father's artistic sense.  She had added a water dispenser in my room while I was in class.

I was very tempted to stay and study for another week, but Ometepe and Costa Rica beckoned and I was starved for fish, adult company and a cold beer.  It was time to move on.

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